THE RAW REVIEW
Apart from last week’s RAW REVIEW, the past seven episodes of WWE’s flagship series have all inspired the following question in me, “How am I going to write about this?”
The thought doesn’t come about due to tiredness or hesitation from the work required. I look forward to writing this column immensely. Along with The Work of Wrestling podcast, it gets me through the week, serving as a pleasant beacon in the nine-to-five fog.
But when episodes revolve primarily around statues, split personalities, and HR evaluations while the rest of RAW’s three-hour-traffic is populated by cartoon characters, continued misogyny, little to no emotional realism, and no clear conceit it becomes almost impossible to critique the show.
It’s all incredibly terrible is not affective analysis, but no matter how much I polish up that sentiment, ultimately, that’s what it boils down to.
The heart and soul of the WWE’s A-show is sick and, possibly, it's always been sick.
The people running and creating this television show seem to believe they’re producing something that does their brand justice.
Vince McMahon thinks last night’s HR evaluation angle that culminated in Corporate Kane magically transforming into Demon Kane in the back of an ambulance was good television or, at the very least, worth the time and effort it took to produce.
And there are viewers who, because they’ve been trained to expect such segments and stories from Monday Night Raw, embrace these shenanigans in either a sincere or ironic fashion.
If you pay attention to the way people watch RAW and especially the way people discuss RAW the day after it happens, you will notice that the conversations are not particularly interesting nor very insightful. People either love it or they hate it. People make memes and they make gifs and they make jokes. They gripe about booking decisions, they harass pro-wrestlers on Twitter, they mock the show and they mock themselves for watching the show, but, ultimately, people toss their hands in the air and proclaim how much they’ll always love the WWE despite the silliness and despite the bad booking.
People have been bludgeoned into accepting that it’s perfectly fine for the WWE to shoot backstage segments with a level of cinematic quality on par with low-budget porn, that it’s perfectly fine for “Hell” to actually exist in the WWE’s canon, and that it’s perfectly fine for “WWE Superstars” to be “fighting to entertain” viewers rather than fighting to win matches.
This is the power of the WWE’s mechanisms - for thirty years they’ve trained their viewership to believe in Sports Entertainment. The problem with that is that Sports Entertainment is infinitely inferior to professional wrestling. Sports Entertainment is the warped perspective that regards last night’s three-hour variety cartoon show as good television. Sports Entertainment aims incredibly low, living and dying by the edict “To entertain” and so long as one man believes that edict has been upheld then nothing is wrong.
I have a very visceral, negative reaction to what I literally see and hear on Monday Night Raw. The quality of the editing and the quality of the cinematography and the quality of the writing and the quality of the performances slithers under my flesh, digs into my skull, and inspires pure, unsettling revulsion.
Why does no one point out that backstage segments are filmed with what appears to be purposeful negligence for what makes good, interesting visuals?
Why do the vast majority of WWE fans buy into the cartoon, even if they do it ironically?
Why do the vast majority of pro-wrestling analysts offer their readers little more than results, dirt, predictions, snark, and self-loathing?
Because that’s the level of discourse the WWE inspires.
Monday Night Raw’s vapidity has created a vapid audience.
That is unacceptable considering how much power the WWE possesses.
The WWE has chosen to make a B-movie when, given their resources, they have the power to make something respectable, thoughtful, and carefully crafted. That would be perfectly fine if they made their B-movie well. But they do not. The seams are readily apparent each and every week. And it’s not as though the company knows they’re making a B-movie. They continue to believe they’re telling entertaining stories, and they also proceed according to their familiar formulas because the show runners do not actually have the capacity to think, “Let’s try something completely different”.
That’s what happens when a creative force gets too comfortable in the throne.
Joining that stagnation is a fundamentally flawed perspective on professional wrestling. Critics often assert that Vince McMahon is “out of touch”. Vince McMahon isn’t so much “out of touch” as he is someone who obviously dislikes professional wrestling.
In his own words, he believes he “makes movies” and he believes that making movies is what the WWE "really does".
That is clearly what he wants to be doing, and that is what he should be trying to do entirely independent from the medium of professional wrestling.
He appears to look down his nose at pure professional wrestling. In a frustratingly ironic twist, his attempt to elevate pro-wrestling to “Sports Entertainment” drags the medium down into the Jerry-Springer-cartoon-theater-muck we’ve become so comfortable with.
I often feel, when I’m watching the WWE, that I’m actually watching one man’s quest to subconsciously resolve a deep discomfort with his humble beginnings. I see one man’s attempt to erect a monument in his own honor that dispels whatever insecurities he may still possess about his father's profession.
Instead of transforming people’s perception of professional wrestling and elevating the medium in the public consciousness as a legitimate form of performance art, I see a misguided attempt to rebrand it and reshape it as something uber-popular and extravagant and excessive, something that yields immediate, massive love from the entire world through flash rather than substance.
I don’t feel like I’m watching something created by someone who absolutely loves what he's doing. The passion and love and excellence for the craft is not there.
And I do not feel happy after watching Monday Night Raw.
I do not feel love after watching Monday Night Raw.
And I do not hear love and I do not see love in the discussions had by the viewing public after Monday Night Raw is over.
I see, hear, and feel a lot of discontent, a lot of frustration, a lot of confusion, and a lot of half-hearted attempts to prove the show is actually good.
I strain, each week, to find one bit of goodness amidst the overwhelming dark resultant from one creative person’s dislike of his chosen medium.
Storytellers who understand and cherish their chosen form of performance do not attempt to egotistically rename it and reshape it in their own image according to their personal tastes.
Would I be respecting the medium of “writing” if I proclaimed, “I’m not in the writing business, I’m in the word-entertainment business”?
Would I be successful if I went down that path or would I be trying to force “writing” into a space that simply does not exist?
And, above all else, would I be telling the truth when I proclaimed I was a "word-entertainer" and not a "writer"?
This is why the WWE continues to struggle and why so many fans of professional wrestling are still forced to defend their love. This is why RAW is not met with predominantly favorable reviews and good ratings and positive buzz. This is why the WWE continues to alienate viewers who might participate if only they felt there was a good reason to.
RAW is a show produced by people who, despite any evidence to the contrary, don’t really want to produce it.
And no one can produce great, inspiring work when they don’t really want to.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to share this with your fellow pro-wrestling believers, and have a nice day.